NCHR urges govt to deal with Afghan asylum seekers as per human rights commitments

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Islamabad: Responding to a petition submitted by a delegation of prominent human rights defenders (HRDs), the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) has written a letter to the government and other stakeholders urging them to deal with the Afghan asylum seekers according to national and international human rights commitments.

A delegation of prominent human rights defenders (HRDs) submitted a petition in NCHR requesting the Commission to play its role in restraining the government from detaining, forcefully deporting or otherwise harassing Afghan asylum-seekers. The petition also suggested the Commission to direct UNHCR to expeditiously process and decide all the asylum-seeking applications files by the foreigners presently residing in Pakistan especially Afghan HRD. Taking cognizance of the plea, the Commission has written letter to government and other stakeholders recommending to restrain the repatriation of those who possess documentation and vulnerable groups, including asylum seekers. The letter advised the government that persons holding expired government issued documentation might be allowed review of their documentation and the government must ensure that women, children and families are not separated during cross border movement. The Commission also called for developing guidelines and bringing clarity to the government’s Afghan refugee policy through consultations with civil society and international organizations mandated to provide international protection.

The delegation that included Senator Mushtaq Ahmed, Former Senator Farhatullah Babar and Former Senator Afrasiab Khattak and human rights defenders including Saba Gul Khattak, Amina Masood Junjua and Advocate Imran Shafique, held a meeting with Chairperson NCHR Rabiya Javeri Agha.

The delegation has presented the petition to the Federal Government, Ministry of Interior, Foreign Affairs, Saffron and to the National Commission for Human Rights. Members of the delegation expressed their concerns over return of Afghan refugees. The petition noted that Pakistan has remained home to the largest refugee populations in the world, and had signed a Tripartite Agreement with the Government of Afghanistan and UNHCR in which it committed that refugees would only be repatriated on voluntary basis.

The petition referred to different categories of Afghans who had earlier remained in Pakistan as asylum-seekers which included Proof of Registration Cards and Afghan Citizen Cards. As such all those registered with SHARP and UNHCR had been allowed to stay as in Pakistan as asylum seekers.

Senator Mushtaq Ahmed referred to earlier policy decision taken by Federal Cabinet on management of Afghan refugees in Pakistan that prohibited harassment of unregistered Afghan refugees and application of Section 14 of the Foreigners Act, 1946.

Similarly, former Senator Farhatullah Babar requested the Commission to take cognizance of forced repatriation of Afghan refugees in light of international human rights treaties which prohibit member states to forcibly expel refugees or asylum seekers. He also expressed concern that UNHCR was not expeditiously processing applications of the asylum seekers filed by foreigners presently residing in Pakistan especially Afghan HRDs.

Former Senator Afarsiab Khattak spoke of suffering of women and children. Saba Gul Khattak raised questions on the application of human rights treaties which are prerequisite for ongoing international trade concessions. The delegation argued that the documents of many migrants were either not duly processed by the government authorities or revalidation process was withheld as a matter of policy which was denial of human rights as due process on individual cases was not applied. The members of delegation also referred to the decisions of the higher courts which recognize the rights of asylum seekers in Pakistan under the Constitution of Islamic republic of Pakistan. The Commission assured the delegation of the highest consideration for their petition.

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